Shared from the 2/16/2022 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Plan would give city only $9M in flood funds

Houston leaders roiled by sum that’s just 2% of H-GAC’s $488M pot for storm mitigation

Brett Coomer / Staff photographer

The federal funds H-GAC plans to allot among local governments — distributed after Hurricane Harvey — are slated to mitigate the risk of future disasters.

Houston is slated to get just 2 percent of the regional council’s $488 million tranche for storm mitigation, angering city leaders who say the city consistently has been shorted when it comes to the federal money.

The Houston-Galveston Area Council, a regional group made up of representatives from local governments, voted Tuesday to proceed with a funding plan that skirts Houston over the opposition of city officials. The plan still needs state and federal approval, along with a lengthy public comment period, before moving forward.

“This is not the end,” said at-large council member Sallie Al-corn, who represents the city on the regional body.

H-GAC is a regional planning council covering 13 counties. It often serves as the decision-maker for allotting federal funding for infrastructure projects with an eye toward improving cooperation among local governments.

Mayor Sylvester Turner, who went to the council’s meeting to make the case for more funding, said the money should follow the damage from Hurricane Harvey. His office issued a statement Tuesday evening calling the council’s plan disappointing.

“The fact is, Texas received this money for damages that occurred in Houston and Harris County,” Turner said. “Houston and Harris County suffered 50 percent of the damages during Harvey, which is not up for debate. What am I missing? If circumstances were different, I would advocate for the other jurisdictions. This decision hurts the city of Houston and hurts our regional alliance.”

The dispute centers on federal funding distributed after Harvey and other storms to help state and local governments finance infrastructure to mitigate the risk of future disasters. Last year, the Texas General Land Office announced Houston and Harris County would get none of an initial $1 billion funding round for communities. The agency later reversed course and said it would give Harris County a direct allotment of $750 million. The city is not slated to get any of that money. The city and county had expected to receive about half of the $4.3 billion in total funds, or $1 billion each.

H-GAC then removed Houston and other Harris County cities from its plans to distribute $488 million to local governments. Commissioners said those cities stand to benefit from the separate $750 million GLO tranche. It is not clear, however, whether any of the money will reach the city’s coffers. The county faces a $900 million funding deficit for its bond program alone and is unlikely to send some of its money to the city, although it may work on joint projects.

“We’re basically penalizing Houston and other cities in Harris County because we might get some benefit from the Harris County money,” Alcorn said. “And we don’t know that yet.”

Houston, which makes up about 30 percent of the regional council’s population base, would get about $9 million under the regional council’s plan, or 1.9 percent.

Chuck Wemple, H-GAC’s executive director, said the board felt Houston would see some of the $750 million headed for the county. He emphasized there will be time for public comment, and the plan is not yet final.

“I would offer that the complication we have before us today is a result of that $750 million allocation to the county, without any definition of what the expectation is for that money,” Wemple said. “That makes all of our jobs more difficult.”

The council covers 13 counties and helps local governments cooperate on regional issues, such as workforce development and infrastructure. Alcorn and council member Letitia Plummer represent Houston on the council’s 36-person board of directors.

Galveston and Fort Bend counties, which would get $89 million and $83 million, respectively, stand to reap the most under the plan HGAC voted to send to the state. The rest would go to governments in 10 surrounding counties, including Montgomery, Matagorda, Brazoria and Waller.

Alcorn urged H-GAC members to adjust the plan, proposing a formula that would send about $148 million to Houston, roughly proportional with population figures. The council rejected that amendment and another from Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia to delay the vote.

Turner, Houston’s Chief Recovery Officer Stephen Costello and other council members also urged a revision, and Turner last week went so far as to question the city’s involvement in the council.

“We got zeroed out by the GLO, and it seems as though we are getting almost zeroed out by the HGAC,” Turner said last week, when Alcorn broached the issue at City Council. “If they’re going to operate at the exclusion of the city of Houston, then the city of Houston needs to reevaluate its relationship with H-GAC going forward.” dylan.mcguinness@

See this article in the e-Edition Here
Edit Privacy